Airport President Protests $30,000 Sewer Hookup Fee

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The head of the group running the Payson Airport argued in vain against a $30,000 sewer hookup fee, which the town sprang on the independent group without any warning.

The issue caused a brisk exchange at last week’s council meeting, and represents the latest twist in a sometimes contentious relationship between the town and the independent airport authority Payson formed to run the airport — which the town still technically owns.

That technicality will cost the Payson Regional Airport Authority $30,000 in the event it builds a planned terminal with room for a new restaurant.

“The board has no recollection of our board making any agreement making us responsible for those fees. We were never even notified of any meetings — until someone noticed it showing up on the agenda for this (Payson Town Council) meeting,” said Airport Authority President Jon Barber.

Payson has an agreement with the independent Northern Gila County Sanitation District to provide sewer hookups to all town-owned and operated buildings for free. However, several years ago, Payson set up the independent airport authority to run the airport, while retaining ownership of the facilities for purposes of grants and liability. That arrangement saved the town about $100,000, since mostly airport authority volunteers took over tasks once preformed by town employees.

But the sanitation district then decided that the airport would no longer be exempt from the sewer hookup fees since it was no longer operated by the town.

Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the town had no choice but to agree to the payment — but did work out an arrangement with the sanitation district to not actually collect the fee until the airport authority builds a new terminal with a hookup for the restaurant — which currently operates out of a prefab building near the runway.

Barber pleaded with the town council to delay a decision until town and sanitation district representatives could meet with the airport authority board.

“When there’s a new terminal and someone goes in to develop that, they’ll be in the hole before they start. For the council to put this on the agenda without even a phone call — well, we’re just disappointed.”

“Would you prefer to be in the lion’s den alone dealing with the sanitation district?” asked Mayor Kenny Evans, noting that the airport authority could either pay the $30,000 immediately — or accept the deal to wait until a new restaurant was developed.

“The bottom line,” said Garrett, “is that we’ve already received a bill, and the airport authority can either pay it now or pay it later.”

“Given the choice between the two — the future (payment) would be best. But can we at least get a call in the future so we can be part of these discussions?” said Barber.

Evans noted that the town found itself in the same position when it was exploring ways to upgrade the event center and set up an independent authority to run it.

“We were given numbers that were, frankly, a staggering amount,” said Evans of the town’s effort to put in toilets to replace the port-a-potties at the rodeo grounds.

“We were hearing six-figure numbers, because, although we owned it, we didn’t operate it. So you’re being treated the same by the sanitation district.”

Councilor Ed Blair, participating in the meeting through a telephone hookup, argued in favor of tabling the move to approve the arrangement with the sanitation district until the council could meet in a work study session with the airport authority.

“We’ve got a work study session scheduled, I really wish we could vote on this after that meeting,” said Blair.

However, the rest of the council concluded that the delay would change nothing, and the agreement to at least postpone the $30,000 payment represented the best deal the airport authority would get.

So the council voted 6-1 to approve the agreement, knowing the airport authority will have to come up with a developer for both the terminal and the restaurant who could pay those connection fees.

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